The Master’s Trick
The Master’s Trick
Sergie and Ludmilla travel to the old city of Delhi to record its indigenous sounds. Their recorder picks up sounds that their ears do not hear. In the artisan quarters of the old city, they learn the Master’s trick to listen to the sound of silence. The trick comes handy when they suddenly find themselves trapped by terrorists in Mumbai’s iconic Taj Hotel. Amidst glass splintering and bullets grazing their bodies, the Master’s trick unlocks a silent flow within that calms them down. The flow passes up their spines and connects to the cosmic silence. And the cosmic silence echoes the pristine sound that turns the galaxies…
Sergie and Ludmilla prepared enthusiastically for the Rann music festival the Holy Mother had mentioned. Sergie coursed Google Earth, and spotted a large expanse of desert stretching across the western borders of India and Pakistan. Ludmilla checked the flight schedule; there were no flights to the desert except a train from Mumbai. She checked the flights to Mumbai. They were booked. She checked the flights to Delhi; just two seats were available. Sergie nodded, “It would be a good opportunity to spend a few days in Delhi and record the indigenous sounds.”
A black taxi with a yellow hood drove them past Delhi’s boulevards shaded with aging lilac and tamarind trees. The driver halted at a traffic signal, and the sight of a foreigner attracted the street urchins. Sergie flipped a coin at an older urchin, but he missed it. A younger urchin caught it, and fled for his life. Amidst the street circus, the driver pointed at the majestic Presidential palace perched atop Raisina Hills. But Sergie could not hear the soul of the city.
They entered the old city through an archway of Turkeman Gate, erected by a Turk sultan to commemorate his victory. Next to it a bearded guru preached a sermon. A cluster of bicycles blocked the traffic at Chandni Chowk to make way for a naked sadhu who walked on a bed of barbed wire.
The taxi driver skillfully edged through a narrow by-lane, and safely delivered them to their hotel. It was an ancestral home, a haveli, turned into a lodge. A spiral cast-iron staircase led to their room. Sergie was too tired to eat anything, and passed out. A little past midnight he was woken by the sound of an old creaking fan. He listened in silence to the droning percussion of the rotating blades powered by an electric motor.
As the first rays of the rising sun filtered through his lattice window, the percussion of the fan was interrupted by the call of Azan from the Jama Masjid mosque. It succeeded in fluttering the wings of the pigeons sleeping on the windowsill. Not long after, hymns from the neighboring Sikh shrine joined the chorus. He had read in the tourist book that the Sikhs seek unity with God through recitation of sacred words, and he soaked in the hymns to sooth his weary nerves. The cawing of the crows rose to a crescendo, and he felt the soul of the city awake.
From the balcony, Ludmilla suddenly noticed an accident in the corner. They walked to the scene. A heated argument ensued between the colliding scooter and a hand-drawn rickshaw. Each swore at the other. Finally, the tea stall owner, who witnessed the accident, delivered the verdict. Ludmilla watched the owner settle back in his shop and pour steaming hot chai into throwaway earthen tea tumblers. She fancied the tumblers and decided to sample the tea in them.
Strangers freely engaged in conversation and shared homemade stuffed parathas that looked like soft buttery pita bread. Over rounds of tea, the conversation turned to a scandal that shrouded a Bollywood icon that hailed from the adjacent lane of ‘Billymaran’. The crowd took sides; the residents of Billymaran owing allegiance to the Bollywood star, lauded his role as the top villain of blockbusters, while the rest accused him of a clandestine affair. The residents took umbrage that led to heated arguments. Both the sides were equally vehement and came close to a fistfight.
From the prism of reality, the situation appeared hilarious. Sergie saw how both the sides were lost in their mind reflections. The movement of their thoughts was mere mental activity that was artificial. However, their identification with the Bollywood star, whom they had never met, lent a veneer of reality, and deceived by it they took up cudgels in his name. It was no different from the suicide bombers who shed blood in the name of a God they had never seen. It was a trick of the mind. In reality it was much ado about nothing, and that was how the reflective mind functioned in a confusion of misidentifications. But from the prism of the mind they could not see it; they had to step outside of it to see it, and till that happened, falsehood would reign as truth.
Sergie felt like the ringmaster in a circus, and volunteered to umpire the debate. He took a vote count. The majority were residents of Billymaran, and voted not guilty.
Ludmilla returned to rest in the hotel but the residents would not let Sergie escape their morning circus. He was a rare find, and had to entertain them; where did he come from? How many children? What did he do? What was his income? When they learnt he composed music, they escorted him to a derelict shop of Babu, a frail white-bearded man with twinkling eyes.
Babu repaired musical instruments, “For five generations we made musical instruments. The strings of the instrument are knotted to a pumpkin. The quality of the sound depends on the seasoning of the pumpkin. The best pumpkins come from Miraj in central India.”
“Do you still make instruments?”
“Times have changed. People are becoming more tech-savvy, and do not have the patience for traditional instruments. Somehow I manage to make two ends meet from repairing old instruments. But if you want to buy a sitar, my friend’s aunt is selling one that her mother purchased from my grandfather.”
“No I don’t play any Indian instruments. I’ve come to record the indigenous sounds.”
The twinkle in his eyes brightened, “You have to record the great poet Amir Khusro.”
“Who is he?”
“Just as the Mevlevis used the swirling dance to introduce the mystical state, Amir Khusro introduced musical outpouring called Qawwali to reach that state. In the tryst with love the seeker calls out to become one with the Higher Being. Today we celebrate the Urs of Amir Khusro, and I offer a shawl at his shrine.”
Curiosity got the better of him, and Sergie bundled behind Babu’s auto rickshaw. Devotees flocked to celebrate the Urs of the sufi saint Amir Khusro at the shrine of his mentor Hazrat Nizamudin, where he himself sought to be buried. They edged their way through the crowded bazaar selling flowers, prayer rugs, headscarves, incense, oriental perfumes and embroidered caps. Babu bought two white caps, “It is customary to cover the head in reverence to the saint.”
The crowd grew bigger and jostled. Babus’s wallet fell, and before he could retrieve it, an urchin whisked it way. Babu gave chase, but the urchin melted in the crowd.
They entered the shrine through a huge Mosque. Sergie was struck by its deafening silence. Babu explained, “My father said you don’t need to hear music to experience it.”
Sergie queued behind Babu and switched his recorder. Babu offered a beautiful embroidered shawl, and then knelt to pray. His ears trained to something, “Only one who seeks can hear him articulate, for he speaks to the soul.”